Home Authors Posts by Austin L. Ray

Austin L. Ray


I ate 5 Evergreen Butcher + Baker Sunday cheeseburgers so you don’t have to


Evergreen Butcher + Baker

Back in 2018, Emma and Sean Schacke bought a vintage building next to the police station in Kirkwood. They decided to live in the top of it and make wonderful food in the bottom of it. They called their market Evergreen Butcher + Baker, and they opened it in September 2019. Even though it’s only a medium-long walk from my house, I didn’t become truly enamored of the place until Covid hit. Now, I’m there once or twice a week.

In February 2020, Emma (the baker) and Sean (the butcher) made 50 cheeseburgers, announcing on Instagram, “If you like ’em, we might make Cheeseburger Sunday a thing.” The Schackes’ followers did, indeed, like them. So, they made 75 the following Sunday. By September, they started offering 100 and often sold out by the time they closed at 3 p.m.

Here’s how it works: People start lining up around 12:30 p.m., which is really the only way to be sure you’ll get one. Evergreen starts selling the burgers at 1 p.m. You can buy as many as you want, but I think we can all agree you’re a monster if you buy more than a couple. One time, there were exactly two burgers left that Emma and Sean ate after closing, which is completely adorable. Another time, they sold 100 burgers in 55 minutes.

It’s a classic double cheeseburger, albeit with excellent ingredients. Emma long-ferments the sesame bun, Sean breaks down the entire cow they use for the burger, and they make the pickles and aioli in-house. It’s not the kind of thing you can eat with one hand. But it’s simultaneously structurally sound and utterly succulent. It’s very good, is what I’m saying.

In the name of journalism, I attempted to eat five Evergreen Sunday cheeseburgers. I tweeted about each experience. This is a look back at those burgers and tweets.

  1. August 9
    I play it cool and show up around 2 p.m. I scarf the burger greedily outside my parked car alongside Hosea L. Williams Drive, and I tweet four photos of the burger like a real sicko. Someone responds by calling the burger “the bulwark Atlanta needs against the scourge of veganism,” which is easily one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read.
  2. September 13
    I honestly don’t remember much about this burger, because, even though I told you that I did this whole five-burger thing “in the name of journalism,” that was a lie. I was assigned this piece shortly after burger four. I tweet that I’m “livin’ that life right now tbpfh.” Someone replies, “I live within walking distance and knew nothing of this burger.” You’re welcome, internet buddy.
  3. October 11
    I show up around 2 p.m. again. The line’s not bad. I get to the front, order a pound of smoked turkey, a loaf of sandwich bread, a cookie for my wife, and, of course, a cheeseburger. No big deal. But then, after the cashier hands me the bag, she walks around the front of her table and tells the line they’re out of cheeseburgers. I’m not sure exactly how to describe my concurrent sweet relief and deep guilt, but I bet the Germans have a word for it. That’s it. That’s the tweet. Someone replies and says they were standing three people behind me when I got the cheeseburger. They include a middle-finger emoji.
  4. November 1
    Classic visit. Showed up around 2 p.m., bought a cheeseburger, sent a stupid tweet, ate the burger too quickly, got the hiccups.
  5. December 6
    This time, the line is longer—20 people stand between me and the burger. More than 20 minutes pass, and it’s hard not to wonder how many burgers are in each large bag that walks by. As people line up behind me, I feel better, but also worse. There are still five folks in front of me when the last burger is sold, so I pivot to buying a pound of roast beef and a loaf of the sandwich bread, drowning my sorrows in Duke’s mayonnaise when I get home. With the sold-out announcement, loud moans emanate from the people behind me. But then, from that same group, a cheerful resignation: “Okay! We’ll see you in a week!”

Three Other Great Takeout Burgers

NFA Burger
Billy’s Classic
This griddled double-stack with American cheese, pickles, and “sassy sauce,” served out of a Dunwoody Chevron station, evokes a (better) Big Mac.

Slutty Vegan
One Night Stand
Available in Westview, Jonesboro, and Old Fourth Ward, this burger is big, messy, and cheesy—but, unlike most burgers with that description, it’s vegan!

The Earl
Big Earl
Buy a burger, save a music venue. This East Atlanta Village monster is topped with American cheese, thick pickles, and Coca-Cola–grilled onions.

This article appears in our February 2021 issue.

Commentary: I miss Creative Loafing

Creative Loafing
Austin L. Ray, the author of this article, created these stickers, which have been spotted across town.

Photograph courtesy of Austin L. Ray

I miss Creative Loafing.

I miss the excitement that used to well up in me when I realized it was “Best of Atlanta” day—the day when CL’s gang of discerning critics, tireless journalists, and ATL enthusiasts anointed the city’s most essential businesses, personalities, and attractions. It was a time to discover new, wonderful stuff in the home I loved, to be validated in my opinions and occasionally surprised by the staff’s. In fact, I loved it so much that I became a CL contributor for seven years, writing about beer, comedy, culture, and other topics.

The annual package was always a clever tribute to a world-class town, which is why I was so disappointed when September’s “Best Of” issue was published—a mess of typos, confusing choices, and one entry that was so offensive the staff had to issue an apology. (More on that in a minute.) I’ve been watching this once-great publication melt down since publisher Ben Eason—who bought the paper from his mother, one of the founders, in 2000, lost it to bankruptcy in 2008, and then bought it back again in 2017—transitioned it from a weekly to a monthly that summer, and months later laid off all but one member of the editorial staff. But this issue finally pushed me over the edge.

I miss Creative Loafing.

I miss the stunning collection of talent—some of whom went on to work for the New York Times, NPR, Bon Appétit, and Rolling Stone, among others. These journalists helped create smart cover packages and strong stories that held people accountable and pointed a light at everything from underrepresented groups to independent artists and businesses. But if you want to read their work, you’re mostly out of luck: Much of CL’s online archive has fallen into a state of broken links and bizarre formatting. (And although someone tweeting from Creative Loafing’s account months ago said the archives would be restored, that remains to be seen.)

I miss Creative Loafing.

I miss the clued-in, confident newspaper I turned to when I moved to Atlanta in 2005. As an idiot 23-year-old, I had no idea what I was doing on multiple levels, but CL’s pages deftly pointed me toward the best in food, culture, city affairs, music, and more. That publication recommended things to me that I could never find on my own. That publication never would have chosen Spotify as a Best of Atlanta critics’ pick for “Best Internet Radio Station.” Recommending something so obvious (and not even local) is a waste of everyone’s time. (See also the critics’ pick for “Best Biscuit”: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. Cool meme, bro.) How about the “Best Athlete” award just going to “Martinez”? Is that a way to say that the critics were awarding both Josef and Pity, the Atlanta United stars who happen to share a last name? There’s no way to tell, since it’s the only word in that listing. Who even knows what the winner of the “Best New Uses for Old Buildings” category, “Georgia Avenue in Buildings Summerhill,” refers to. Those words all mean something, but certainly not in that order.

Creative Loafing I miss Creative Loafing.

I miss the way every ATLien could count on the paper to sensitively report on issues such as the plight of homeless people, illuminating the societal ills that plague Atlanta citizens living on the streets while perhaps pointing to a better future for us all. But in September’s issue, Creative Loafing reduced the homeless to a tactless punchline. For the “Best Thing to Hide from Out-of-Town Guests” category, CL printed the reader’s choice award as “the homeless,” with no explanation. After days of social media backlash, they removed the listing online and published a lengthy editor’s note stating that, though they disagreed with the pick, it got the most reader votes. As such, they felt obligated to publish it uncensored. It’s one thing to celebrate freedom of the press, but it’s another entirely to publish any foolish thing someone tells you. The editors of this decades-old publication should know the difference, and their lack of discretion and judgment is baffling.

Certainly, the biggest problem here—the reason for the lapses in judgment and failure to correct typos and confusing picks—stems from the decision Eason made in December 2017 to continue to do journalism after firing almost all of his journalists. The September issue had a critics panel that included some notable Atlantans and some longtime CL journalists, including the only editor spared in the 2017 layoffs, music editor Chad Radford. But an issue that recognizes more than 700 winners is a massive thing. You need an actual staff if you’re going to pull it off.

Creative LoafingI miss Creative Loafing.

I miss the award-winning, funny, and frank publication that would report the hell out of anything if it was important to our city. Watching what’s happening with this ATL institution right now is like stumbling upon an old friend who’s bleeding out on the floor, knowing there’s nothing I can do to save them. In the meantime, every tone-deaf response and poorly written piece causes pain and longing for what once was.

Yes, times are changing, and alt-weeklies are both shrinking and closing all over the country. Maybe I’m nostalgic for a time that’s never coming back. Or maybe these times just require extra grit and innovation. Take theLAnd in Los Angeles, for example, where a small group of ex-L.A. Weekly staffers and freelancers are working on a shoestring budget to publish quality alternative journalism. Or the Chicago Reader’s new community-supported model, which is helping a legacy publication continue its commitment to in-depth reporting and storytelling. These types of changes are revolutionary—and are the types of decisions required to keep the alt-weekly spirit alive.

I miss Creative Loafing.

And it would seem that even Creative Loafing misses Creative Loafing. September’s issue gloats of a time 30 years ago when CL was “producing an alternative to the staid daily papers and the glossy city booster magazine.” What’s truly disappointing is that CL is looking for validation in decades previous—when nothing is more crucial and difficult than the present. No wonder the issue’s cover features a dog pissing on the words “Best of Atlanta 2019.”


Editor’s note: Before publishing this story, we reached out to Creative Loafing publisher Ben Eason for his response to criticisms raised in this essay. He replied: “Other than our controversy over the Reader’s pick for Homeless, we were quite pleased with the issue. Since you guys have quite the CL alumni club over there, I’m sure you can give us all kinds of ideas for how the issue might be done in the future.”

Austin L. Ray is a former Creative Loafing contributor and a writer in Atlanta.

Taqueria El Tesoro will bring breakfast tacos, beer, and “a badass desertscape patio” to Edgewood

Taqueria el Tesoro
Taqueria el Tesoro is slated to open this fall in Edgewood.

Photograph by Chris Rank

Alan Raines had been intrigued by the mostly-abandoned building at the corner of Woodbine and Whitefoord avenues in Edgewood. The dilapidated, shoebox-shaped structure behind a thriving mechanic’s shop had played host to various businesses, some selling wings, others barbecue, but it had been dormant for awhile.

“Atlanta is dozens of neighborhoods, each sporting a style and attitude of their own,” Raines says, remembering when he first started thinking about the space. “Edgewood deserves its own vibe.”

He eventually got some information about the building’s owner: “Oscar. Sells watermelons on Saturdays.” That next Saturday, Raines showed up, bought a watermelon, and made a friend.

“We talked for two hours about the neighborhood, restaurant life, and the old neighborhood dealer I befriended upon buying my house, who I called the Sheriff of Ericson,” Raines recalls, referring to a former trap house near a property he owns around the corner on Ericson Street. “Oscar laughed out loud, and we were on. He finally agreed to ‘think about renting’ to me. Two years of badgering later, he called me and said, ‘Okay.’”

Raines and his business partner, Darryl Howard, are planning to open Taqueria El Tesoro—tesoro is Spanish for “treasure”—in late October. They’ll start with “breakfast burritos and great coffee, maybe a few specials,” Raines says, along with a lunch menu that includes tamales, quesadillas, and barbacoa. A friend he’s known for many years who grew up just outside of Mexico City will be responsible for the food, including house-made corn and flour tortillas. Raines hopes that once the restaurant finds its groove in the first few months that they’ll add a full bar, full-service dinner, and “a badass, pretty large desertscape patio.”

“If all goes as planned, we will control our property and the vacant lot next door, for a total of about 21,000 square feet,” Raines says. “The plan is to grow that into a covered patio, full outside accessible bar, seating areas, a fountain, kids play area, maybe horseshoes, bocce, and more.”

Taqueria el TesoroRaines says he plans for the project to be a gradual expansion. “The desertscape vision will feature a mix of palm trees, cactus, stone dust, concrete pavers, string lights, and different seating areas,” he explains. “We feel like it is a modern evolution of a spot on the side of the road in Mexico.”

For Edgewood, Tesoro could become a destination restaurant in a part of town that doesn’t have one. It’s located at a busy intersection—just a block from Memorial Drive, a short walk to Moreland Avenue, and about a mile from the Edgewood/Candler Park MARTA Station. The area is quickly gaining new residents, and now new businesses are following. Chop Shop—the butcher shop collaboration between Pine Street Market and Riverview Farms—is building out its space a block away from Tesoro.

This isn’t Raines’s first food and drink endeavor. He co-founded the East Atlanta Beer Festival in 2003 and co-founded and ran the beer-geek-beloved HOToberFest for several years. He says he’s excited for Tesoro to serve local brews including ones from Wrecking Bar, Southern Brewing, Dry County, and Arches. His connections to Georgia’s largest brewery run deep as well: He was one of SweetWater’s first volunteers when it opened in 1997, and he later worked for an adhesives company that helped the brewery attach labels to their early bottles.

“SweetWater 420 has a tap handle anywhere I do business,” he says.

Taqueria el TesoroRaines has been a partner at a few restaurants over the years, including East Atlanta’s Iris and Cantina La Casita, and Decatur’s Cantina El Tesoro (which was located in the space currently occupied by Kevin Gillespie’s Revival). Raines parted ways with the Decatur restaurant before it closed, and while he’s repurposing the logo, he’s quick to dispel rumors that he’s merely rehashing Cantina El Tesoro.

“This is not a resurrection,” he says. “This is a new life.”

Taqueria el Tesoro
Owners Darryl Howard and Alan Raines

Photograph by Chris Rank

That new life applies to Raines as well. After working in sales for three decades, he recently quit his longtime gig to go all in on Tesoro. He says that treating restaurants as a side hustle in the past was “not a good plan,” and that he’s excited to “only do this” going forward. And while he lives in Sandy Springs currently, he’s toying with the idea of moving into his rental on Ericson Street and skateboarding to work one day, becoming both a business owner and resident of Edgewood.

“We hope the location itself, an eyesore for so long, will become a treasure for the neighborhood,” Raines says.

An ode to Home Grown’s Comfy biscuit

Home Grown's Comfy Chicken Biscuit
Home Grown’s Comfy Chicken Biscuit

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

Home Grown’s Comfy Chicken Biscuit may not be the best breakfast item in Atlanta, and it’s certainly not the healthiest breakfast item in Atlanta, but it is the most Atlanta breakfast item in Atlanta. This is because it’s (a) unpretentious; (b) relatively cheap ($11 for a full meal); (c) a respectful nod to the rich history of the South’s best and most indulgent early-morning foodstuffs; and (d) delicious. The Comfy is for everyone. Everyone is for the Comfy.

Thud. That’s what it sounds like when the sturdy plate holding that glorious mess hits your Formica table. The sea of sausage gravy that surrounds the open-faced sandwich adds heft. Thud. It’s the sound of promise, as if, in that one beat, the Comfy assures you that tomorrow is a new day. “Until then,” it seems to say, “curl up in this blanket.”

Underneath, three fried pieces of boneless chicken breast somehow maintain their crunch. The biscuit does double duty as a gravy sponge and a support for the bird, but it’s nothing all that special on its own. (According to one insider, diners can request a “Comfy Mini,” which is a half order. I don’t know why anyone would ever do this.) The only other item on the plate is an orange slice or two. Why? That puny half moon couldn’t begin to cut through the Comfy’s richness. Perhaps the orange is there to offer up a few vitamins? I like to believe it has a voice of its own, telling me, “Don’t worry. You deserve every morsel of sausage that lies before you.”

Home Grown

When Home Grown opened along a vacant stretch of Memorial Drive in 2010, the Comfy Chicken Biscuit was a “quick and easy” staff meal, according to chef and co-owner Kevin Clark. He added it to the restaurant menu about a year later. “I thought the kitchen was going to walk out,” Clark told Atlanta magazine in 2016. “Every single ticket had the Comfy on it. It was ridiculous.”

You could make your own Comfy at home. Atlanta-based meal-kit delivery service PeachDish offers “Kevin Clark’s Comfy Chicken Kit” for $24.99. But you’d miss out on the company of all kinds of folks—construction workers, pink-cheeked babies and their preppy parents, middle-aged punks with Falcons-red mohawks. One of the best parts of the Comfy is the weird, inclusive, against-the-odds establishment from which it was born. Home Grown is a lot like Atlanta in that way. 968 Memorial Drive, 404-222-0455

This article appears in our March 2018 issue.

The future of the world-famous Ghetto Burger

Ann's Snack Bar
A memorial to Ann Price, the founder of Ann’s Snack Bar, hangs in the restaurant. Price passed away in 2015 at age 72.

Photograph by Darnell Wilburn

Atlanta lost a food legend in April 2015. “Miss Ann” Price might not have been known for winning high-minded culinary awards, but her hallowed Ghetto Burger and her fiery demeanor made her one of the city’s most authentic and longstanding small business owners. Restaurant Eugene chef Linton Hopkins—himself a James Beard award winner—can attest to that.

“I am as inspired by Miss Ann and the way she expressed herself through her burger as I am the way Ferran Adrià [of El Bulli in Spain] was able to find his voice in Catalan cuisine mixed with very modern concepts,” Hopkins says.

Price opened Ann’s Tasty Dogs in 1974 along Memorial Drive in Kirkwood, serving up an array of hot dogs as part of the chain of restaurants around the city. The place would eventually change its name—Ann’s Snack Bar—and find a rebellious purpose more befitting its independent-minded owner.

“She was different, let me just put it that way,” Price’s sister Josephine Culver says, laughing. “She didn’t mince words. She didn’t bite her tongue.”

Ann's Snack Bar
Ann Price’s sister, Josephine Culver, retired from her IRS job and now works to maintain her sister’s vision.

Photograph by Darnell Wilburn

As one of Price’s eight living siblings, and one of the four to whom Price left the Snack Bar in her will, Culver has fond memories of her older sister. They grew up in the tiny East Georgia town of Sylvania, but after graduating high school there, Price left for cosmetology school in New York. She eventually made her way back to Atlanta and worked as a hairdresser, but that didn’t last long. She “somehow spun off into food services,” according to Culver, because she wasn’t making enough money. If Price didn’t like a situation, she would change the situation.

“She never really changed in that way,” says Culver. “I guess that was a sign that she was a leader and not a follower.”

Ann’s Snack Bar would become known for its Ghetto Burger, a five-inch-tall double-patty behemoth created by its titular owner in the wake of some new competition. In 1988, as a nearby Checkers opened on the corner of Memorial and Maynard, right off of I-20, Price decided she needed a new secret weapon to battle the fast food joint. She said goodbye to the frozen patties she’d been using and came up with a fresh menu item with a name that gave a nod to Kirkwood’s dangerous past.

Ann's Snack Bar
The Ghetto Burger

Photograph by Darnell Wilburn

Every Ghetto Burger came complete with two fat, hand-packed patties of nothing-fancy ground beef liberally adorned with seasonings (when pressed Culver would only allow that this element of the Ghetto Burger is “special seasoning in the right proportions”), ketchup, mustard, chili, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cheese, and deep-fried bacon. It was—and is—a glorious mess—one that, to this day, only costs $9.50 with fries. The Wall Street Journal named it the best burger in America in 2007, journalist Raymond Sokolov calling it a “masterpiece” that was “the outstanding hamburger experience [he] found in an odyssey of several months and thousands of miles,” not to mention “the next level of burgerhood.”

The Ghetto Burger’s loyal fan base has acquired some notable Atlantans over the years, too. Michael Render, better known as Killer Mike and perhaps best known as half of the rap duo Run the Jewels, found his biggest fame in his forties, an age where many rappers have already passed their prime or moved on to other business interests. But before all that he was a regular at the Snack Bar, taking inspiration from Price’s work ethic.

“She fought to own a piece of the curb,” Render says, referring to Price’s tenacity as a small business owner. “You can get knocked on your ass and decide to stay down. She repeatedly chose to get back up. That was the lesson I learned from her: Don’t quit.”

When Price was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, some of her siblings started pitching in at the restaurant. When Price died in 2015, Culver, who worked as an analyst for the IRS for 34 years, retired to help keep the Snack Bar open. The siblings closed the place briefly to do some much-needed renovations, though nothing that scrubbed the decades of well-worn character from the restaurant. The screened patio out front is still minimalist and a little too hot in the summer months. Inside, the counter seats are still cramped. The stained sign above the grill still boldly announces the Snack Bar’s “rules and regulations,” a series of please-do-nots that include “lay or lean on counter,” “consume alcohol or smoke,” “allow children to slide on rails,” and “curse.” All of which is to say: It’s technically under new management, but very much still Miss Ann’s.

Ann's Snack Bar
Customers dine on the front patio of Ann’s Snack Bar in Kirkwood.

Photograph by Darnell Wilburn

Business decreased by about 25 percent the year Price passed, but Culver says that when “word of mouth got out that we were still here,” business improved. (To this day, sales are still down around 10-15 percent.) None of the recipes have changed, nor have new menu items been added. Culver says it’s important to maintain Price’s vision.

“I’m kind of organized,” says Culver, “so when I helped, I tried to make the burgers the same size, get some consistency. But she said, ‘No, no. That’s not what a Ghetto Burger is. It’s supposed to be sloppy and hanging off the bun, just piled high.’” Culver thinks she’s got it right now.

There’s been “more than a little bit of interest” in buying the property, says Culver, but not the restaurant. While she might consider an offer from someone who wants to run the place, she has no interest in making a quick buck at the expense of the decades-old Kirkwood eatery.

Paces Properties—the Atlanta developer with a number of Eastside properties including Krog Street Market, the Atlanta Dairies project, and Grant Park Market—plans to build 110,000 square feet of retail space they’re calling the Atlantic Shopping Center just behind the restaurant soon. A Paces representative says, though, that the company does not have designs to buy the land where Miss Ann’s Snack Bar sits: “We look forward to being a great neighbor to an Atlanta institution.”

Ann's Snack Bar
Culver serves customers inside Ann’s Snack Bar.

Photograph by Darnell Wilburn

“I think it’s important to this neighborhood,” Culver says. “There’s very few places up and down this strip that [our customers] can get the kind of burger that they get here. They can find a McDonald’s, they can find a Burger King, but that’s not the same thing, and that’s what they tell us every day.” As for the Checkers that inspired Price to create the Ghetto Burger? It was bulldozed under in 2013.

“It has potential, and it can be taken to another level,” says Culver of Snack Bar’s future. While she hopes the business might pique the interest of some of her younger family members, she admits that they aren’t currently interested.

“As far as me being involved, day-to-day, hands-on, I’d say probably another couple of years and then I’m done,” she says. Now 60, she wants to enjoy retirement. “But I don’t wanna let go of it because [Ann] worked so hard.”

How two Atlanta artists used crowdfunding to launch Tuskegee Heirs

Tuskeegee Heirs
Illustration by Marcus Williams (pencils), Brandon Page (inks), and Omaka Schultz (colors)

When Atlanta children’s book author Greg Burnham and illustrator Marcus Williams launched the Kickstarter campaign for their Tuskegee Heirs: Flames of Destiny graphic novel series in January, they felt good about attaining their rather modest $10,000 fundraising goal.

“We just didn’t expect to get it in eight hours,” says Burnham. “And we definitely didn’t think [it would reach] $74,000.”

Set 80 years in the future, Tuskegee Heirs depicts a rogue group of African American teenaged pilots who must battle “self-aware war machines” to save humanity. The project was inspired by a conversation Williams had with an older man who was frustrated by how aviation had gone from awe-inspiring to mundane in just a few decades.

“I mentioned the idea of drawing a cast of young Tuskegee Airmen,” says Williams. He and Burnham then built the concept into a futuristic action-adventure story that also honors the original airmen and their role in black history. Williams hopes that the graphic novels—the first is due out this month, with another to follow next year—will eventually serve as a springboard for an animated series. “So what’s next is infinity and beyond.”

This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.

Follow Us